Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2009
To the natural mind, greatness and humility are in conflict. But to God, humility is the path to greatness. We need to grasp this lesson for many reasons that I will discuss with you. It can save our lives.
The conflict between greatness and humility can be seen all around us in every arena of life. Sports offer us many examples. ESPN is a popular channel for sports fans. Recently ESPN ran a video of a “great” running back. I could call it “hype” or a “puff piece.” It was evident that the talented football player believed the hype about himself as he thumped his chest. In the following games, his “exploits” declined into mediocrity. Pride placed a target on him and set him up for a fall.
Of course, sports are not the only area where “greatness” and humility come into conflict. Years ago, a very popular evangelist bragged to me that he was bigger than Billy Graham. Billy Graham is a humble man, but this evangelist fell under the weight of his own pride. It’s sort of like the guy who wrote the book Humility and How I Achieved It. Success is a tricky issue, only the humble can survive it. Jesus shows us how.
So what is humility? It is freedom from arrogance, a modest estimate of oneself, a deep sense of unworthiness before God, a submission to His will. A willingness to hear criticism – whether it is just or unjust – is a way of yielding to God, making room for Him to be the judge, where we are placing ourselves in His hands.
The most obvious and best example of humility is Jesus, who – though He was God made flesh – became the servant of all and made Himself of no reputation (see Philippians 2:3-11).
HUMBLE IN BIRTH
Jesus did not come to us as Superman, descending from the galaxy. He came as a baby, completely vulnerable. He was born to a humble maiden in a manger among livestock, in the village of Bethlehem. Joseph, the step-father of our Lord, was a carpenter – a common laborer. Mary, Joseph, and Bethlehem were Divine choices – deliberate decisions to begin Jesus’ journey to glory in humility.
HUMBLE IN CHILDHOOD
Jesus was taken from Bethlehem to grow up in Nazareth, another obscure village of common people. Luke 2:51-52 tells us that Jesus submitted Himself to His parents. He was the Son of God, yet subject to His earthly parents. His submission is further evidence of His humility as a child.
Luke also tells us that being subject to His parents, He increased in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man. Humility enabled Jesus to cope with His evident knowledge and character, and to learn, thus avoiding the pitfalls of pride. It also brought favor from His heavenly Father and the local community. Humility is the foundation for spiritual growth; it enables one to listen and learn.
HUMBLE IN BAPTISM
John the Baptist preached repentance and baptism as a demonstration of it. Multitudes came out to the Jordan River to hear John and be baptized. Though Jesus had no sin, He insisted in identifying with sinners in baptism, over John’s reluctance to baptize Him.
While baptism is a joyful experience, signifying our death to self and being raised to new life, it is also a humbling experience. It is a public confession and placing ourselves in the hands of another to be buried and resurrected. Baptism was for Jesus a foretelling of His emerging ministry of identification with sinners, and placing His own life in the Father’s hands, in a literal death, burial, and Resurrection.
HUMBLE IN MINISTRY
Jesus’ ministry was the most powerful and supernatural that the world ever witnessed. There was no obstacle he could not overcome, from raging seas to raising the dead. Some wanted to make Him the King of Israel (see John 6:15).
Multitudes came on foot walking for days just to get a glimpse of Him. But Jesus refused human glory and took no credit for His exploits (see John 5:19).
The reason that the Father could invest such power in Jesus was because He knew that His Son would not succumb to the deception that often destroys those who seek power and glory.
Another evidence of Jesus humility was His ability to be with sinners without losing His own righteousness. Good as He was, He was not too good to sit with sinners. He came for them. In His Sermon on the Mount, He said that the humble would be blessed – those who saw their own need (see Matthew 5-7).
HUMBLE IN DEATH
Humility is not always rewarded by humanity, and so it was with Jesus. He was rejected, not because He had committed some deed, but because He was a threat to those in power, and because the Father had chosen Him to take upon Himself our sin. Isaiah 53, the Gospels, and Philippians 2:3-11 so clearly and profoundly describe His death.
Jesus said, “Not My will, but Your’s be done.” He humbled Himself even unto the death on the Cross – which was a cursed death. In addition, He died for ours. To quietly take the punishment that others deserve is a humility that very few of us will never achieve. But in His case, it is our salvation.
Humility is not an end in itself; that is, we do not walk humbly just to be known as humble. Humility is a demonstration that we trust the Father to raise us up to the measure of His purpose. Jesus knew that the Vindicator was near (see Isaiah 50:7-11). He knew something that we must learn; the Vindicator is near to those who humbly trust in Him. We cannot vindicate ourselves. We have an Advocate with the Father who must vindicate us (see 1 John 2:1).
TRUST AND OBEY
Jesus obeyed and trusted the Father in His humility; therefore, the Father raised Him up and gave Him a name above every name. At His name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, because He is worthy!
Jesus attempted to teach us the great lesson of humility in Matthew 23:12. “Whoever exalts himself shall be put down, and whoever humbles himself shall be lifted up.” Humility is our task: lifting up is His.
Pride is inordinate self-esteem, conceit, a sense of superiority due to beauty, wealth, ability, power, or achievement. It is expressed in many ways: Cockiness, self-promotion, insolence, rebellion, or patronizing tones. It is repulsive to God who is truly superior yet respects humility. It is also repulsive to others.
Pride is Satan’s sin (see Ezekiel 28:12-19). It got him cast out of heaven and eventually into the pit. Satan was proud of his place, beauty, and power – he lost it all. He (better than to) understands its deceptive force, and, he uses it against us. It sets us up for a fall, creates strife, blinds us to reality, and masks our insecurity. It causes us to persecute others who are innocent and criticize those who achieve more than we do. The list of pride’s problems is endless.
Pride is a terrible disease for which there is a cure, thank God! Most of us have at some time succumbed to the “pride virus,” like the man who was given a badge for his humility. But when he wore it, they took it away. John Wesley, who believed in “entire sanctification,” was asked if he was entirely sanctified. He replied that if he said that he was, he would not be.
So what can we do to prevent this fatal disease in our own lives? The apostle Peter was afflicted with pride (see Matthew 26:33-35) but was cured at the Cross. This same Peter offers us the cure when he writes: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (See I Peter 5:6). Again, humility is our task – exaltation is the Lord’s.
It is interesting to note that in previous verses he tells younger people to submit to elders and everyone to be submissive toward each other. Other Scriptures tell us to “in honor prefer one another.”
There are several antidotes to pride, or means to humility, which will help us to avoid the “pride virus”:
Regularly get into God’s presence. If we truly enter His presence, we will see ourselves in need (see Isaiah 6:1-7).
Find your mission. Mission will humble you as you discover your limitations and dependence upon God.
Read biographies of truly great people and realize that they survived dark humbling times to be finally promoted.
Serve others who are in need. Serving humbles us to see our blessings and the desperation of others.
Learn from the arrogant how not to be, or how not to repeat their errors.
Associate with people who are more mature, or wiser than yourself as often as possible.
Don’t spend much time listening to critics, their pride is contagious.
Submit your opinions and decisions to someone you respect. Submission is a mark of humility and wisdom.
Many years ago a friend and I were looking at boats. Just for fun, a broker showed us a large yacht. The name of it was “The Arrogant.” On its deck was a small boat, a dingy named “Cocky.” The yacht was for sale because the owner was in prison for tax evasion.
If you are serious about this serious subject, I would suggest Proverbs 16; it will give you God’s word on humility and pride. Beyond that, you might get a concordance or visit www.biblegateway.com and look up a variety of Scriptures concerning humility and pride; there are many. Again, it could save your life.
My purpose is to preserve us through these perilous times. Our nation and we who are believers need to humble ourselves. It is the prerequisite for much-needed revival that will open our hearts and eyes to reality, and cause appropriate action.
A new look at the humble Christ will remind us that the One that we follow walked the path of humility and service. That path led Him to favor with the Father, Who exalted Him, and wants to bless us with great blessings – when He knows that such power, wealth, and beauty will not destroy us as it did our adversary. The choice is between humility now or humiliation later.
Remember, Jesus was not only the righteous Son of God, He was intelligent – intelligent enough to walk humbly and vigilant before the Father; and give the glory to Him.
Scripture Reference: Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:51-52; John 6:15; John 5:19; Matthew 5-7; Isaiah 53; Philippians 2:5-11; Isaiah 50:7-11; I John 2:1; Matthew 23:12; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Matthew 26:33-35; I Peter 5:6; Isaiah 6:1-7; Proverbs 16
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.